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Health Insurance Options for College Students

Health insurance covers all or part of the cost of medical care and is a necessity for everyone, regardless of age. However, many college students may not believe it is necessary because they are young and healthy. Unfortunately, this is a fallacy.

Without insurance, students can wind up with overwhelming medical bills or become unable to access health care plans in the future. Fortunately, college students have many affordable options for attaining healthcare. There are many options for young people to acquire coverage between university-sponsored plans and the government policy marketplace.

Read on to learn why insurance is essential, available options are, and how to obtain it.

Do College Students Have to Have Health Insurance? 

Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA), insurers dropped children from their parent’s coverage at 19. Full-time students kept coverage until age 22, leaving many young adults without insurance. Since the ACA became law, children of policyholders could keep their coverage until they are 26.

Many schools offer insurance plans for those unable to stay with their parents, as insurance is often a prerequisite for attendance. Because of these policies, colleges

often provide a student insurance policy paid on top of tuition. Students must purchase the school’s insurance or complete a waiver to prove they have comparable coverage. 

How to Get Health Insurance for Students 

Even if you’re in good health, it’s essential to have health insurance. Chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, or asthma, affect 1 in 6 young adults. Even for those without a chronic illness, unexpected accidents that incur injury can potentially sink someone into profound medical debt. For example, a three-day hospital stay without insurance costs $30,000, while even a broken leg may cost around $7,000.

To meet the requirement for health insurance, students have several choices.

School-offered Student Health Plans 

Most colleges and universities require health insurance for students. Colleges may automatically enroll students in this coverage, which averages $2,000 to $4,000 for the school year. Because you pay this with tuition, student loans and scholarships typically cover student health plan costs. 

College health plans must cover health conditions that the ACA established. These include hospitalization, mental health, emergency services, and free preventive care. To find out what your college offers, check the school website for details on student health coverage, the cost, and the deadlines to opt-out.

If you can not find what you need, try contacting student health services. Students must prove they have comparable insurance under another plan to opt out of school-sponsored health insurance.

However, suppose the University provided healthcare plan is too expensive. In that case, there are alternatives such as staying on your parent’s health plan or getting your own Marketplace plan and utilizing subsidies to help lower the costs.

Staying On Parents’ Health Plan 

You can save money by opting out of the student health plan if you’re on your parent’s health plan, assuming your college accepts it. Find out if the network for your family’s plan includes providers near your school. If not, you’ll need additional coverage.

You’ll have full medical coverage if you’re on your parent’s plan, but dependent plans do not offer maternity care or cover spouses and children. If you expect to need coverage in those situations, you’ll need to enroll in your college’s health insurance or purchase an individual plan.

Chances are, your parent’s health insurance already covers you. If not, they can add you to their employer-based insurance during the open enrollment period, usually a couple of weeks at the end of the year. If they miss that window, they’ll have to wait until next year’s open enrollment unless they qualify for a special enrollment period. 

With a Marketplace plan, parents can add you to their coverage during the annual open enrollment period, from November 1 to January 15, or during a special enrollment period.

Private, Individual Health Plans

If you’re going out of state for college, see if your parents’ insurance network includes providers in your college town. If not, their policy won’t cover health care at school other than emergency services. In that case, consider buying individual insurance. Get price estimates and compare the price of a plan from the Marketplace to your school’s student health plan. 

Moving to a new state or county for school qualifies for a special enrollment period, so you don’t have to wait for open enrollment at the end of the year to sign up. Apply in the state where you’ll attend school.

Depending on your income, you may be eligible for a subsidy to reduce your monthly premium. The application looks at all income in a tax household, so you’re more likely to qualify for a subsidy if no one claims you as a dependent. Getting insurance through your college will likely be the most affordable option if you don’t qualify for a subsidy.

Low-income Students: Medicaid 

Funded by states and the federal government, Medicaid is free or inexpensive health insurance for disabled or low-income citizens. Medicaid covers the type of care students receive on campuses, such as doctor visits and inpatient and outpatient hospital care. However, not all university health services accept Medicaid.

Most states have expanded Medicaid so that adults with income at or below the federal poverty level qualify for Medicaid. Apply for Medicaid at or through your state Medicaid agency.

To be eligible for Medicaid, you must be a resident of the state where you receive benefits. Medicaid coverage is not transferable across states, so find out if Medicaid is feasible for you if you are attending college out of your home state. 

Working Students: Employer-sponsored Health Plan

Employees who work over 30 hours a week and some part-time employees qualify for employer-based health insurance. This usually costs less than an individual policy and provides broader coverage. Work-related insurance is more likely to be through a major insurer with a national provider network, so you are covered at home and school. If you want to receive care through student health services, check to see if they are in-network for your company’s insurance.

New employees usually sign up for insurance during the first few weeks on the job. If they miss that time frame, they must wait until open enrollment, usually at the end of the year, or sign up during a special enrollment period.

Married Students: Spouse’s Health Plan 

Even if you get married, you can stay on your parent’s health insurance until age 26. If your spouse has employer-based or Marketplace insurance, they can add you to that coverage. Employees may add a spouse to health insurance after joining the company or during open enrollment. Getting married triggers a special enrollment period, so you’ll have 30-60 days to enroll after your wedding. 

To update a Marketplace plan, log in to your account and update your information. You’ll be able to change plans during the 60-day special enrollment period.

Older Students: Medicare 

Encouraged in part by free tuition programs, mature adults are increasingly enrolling in college. Students ‌65 or older qualify for Medicare, health insurance for older adults, or people with disabilities. 

Medicare provides comprehensive health coverage at a reasonable price. Enrolling in Medicare is automatic when you start Social Security benefits. Medicare Part A, hospital insurance, launches at no cost for most people. Medicare Part B, medical insurance, is $170.10 per month in 2022, though high earners pay more. Part B begins automatically, but users can decline coverage if they wish. Those not collecting Social Security must sign up for Medicare by contacting the Social Security Administration.

Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part C plans bundle Parts A and B and usually Part D, drug coverage, into plans offered by private insurers according to rules set by Medicare. Most Medicare Advantage Plans require one to use providers within their network.

Pick Your Health Plan and Enroll 

Choosing the best health insurance for a college student requires as much information as possible. You might be able to opt-out of the school’s coverage if you are on your parent’s health insurance. Find out the deadline and requirements for the waiver, which might be during the summer before the semester begins.

If you are signing up for new health insurance, you’ll have to do it during Open Enrollment Periods (OEP). OEPs usually occur from November 1 through January 15 for plans offered on the healthcare Marketplace. Go to for quotes and to enroll. Coverage begins immediately after a life-changing event like moving, getting married, or having a baby. Otherwise, coverage begins in 2 to 6 weeks.

Employer-based health insurance also has designated enrollment periods. New hires sign up for benefits after joining the company or during the annual open enrollment, usually at the end of the year. Special enrollment periods can occur throughout the year after events such as losing health coverage, moving, or getting married.

Students with a low income may qualify for Medicaid. Apply on or through your state Medicaid agency. It typically takes from 45 – 90 days to be approved for Medicaid.

Your school’s student health plan might provide excellent insurance, but comparing it to your other options will prove it gives the right coverage at the right price.

You’re just a few steps away from a personalized health insurance quote.

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You’re just a few steps away from a personalized health insurance quote.

Learn More